Featured Directors

7 Must-See Films of Pedro Almodóvar

Whenever anyone talks about Spanish cinema, it’s impossible to ignore the achievements of Pedro Almodóvar, one of the most internationally successful Spanish filmmakers of all time. Born in 1949, Almodóvar has won countless awards for his work, including two Oscars, five BAFTAs, six European Film Awards, two Golden Globes, nine Goya Awards, and four prizes at the Cannes Film Festival, as well as the French Legion of Honour and the Gold Medal of Merit in the Fine Arts from the Spanish Ministry of Culture. Recently, he was awarded with an Honorary Golden Lion at the 76th Venice International Film Festival.

Barely 18 years old, Almodóvar moved from his rural hometown to Madrid to pursue his passion for filmmaking, and worked several jobs to support his art. Interested in experimental film and theatre, Almodóvar became a key figure in La Movida Madrileña (the Madrilenian Movement), a cultural renaissance that followed the death of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. 

Here is a look at some of the most important films of Almodóvar’s decades-spanning, award-winning, groundbreaking career as a director:

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988)

Pepi, Luci, Bom was Almodóvar’s first feature as a director, but it was 1988’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown that launched him into the cinematic pantheon. The dark dramedy starred Carmen Maura and was an early breakout role for Antonio Banderas, who has remained a collaborator with Almodóvar to this day. The film, about a woman who is abandoned by her married boyfriend, was nominated for the 1988 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and won five Goya Awards.


All About My Mother (1999)

In the eleven years between Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and 1999’s All About My Mother, Almodóvar continued to make films that were critical and commercial hits, including Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990), High Heels (1991), and The Flower of My Secret (1993). All About My Mother is his best known film from the 1990s however, and opened the 1999 Cannes Film Festival, where Almodóvar won Best Director. The awards kept coming for the film, which explored themes of sisterhood and family, and earned Almodóvar his first Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, as well as a Golden Globe, two BAFTAs, and six Goya Awards.

Talk to Her (2002)

Talk to Her received nearly universal critical acclaim when it was released, employing unconventional cinematic techniques for mainstream films like modern dance and silent filmmaking. The film tells the story of two men who bond while taking care of a comatose woman they both love. Almodóvar won an Academy Award for Best Screenplay and was nominated for Best Director, cementing his status as not just an internationally respected filmmaker but one of the best in the industry.

Bad Education (2004)

Starring Gael García Bernal and Fele Martínez, Bad Education was a drama about child sexual abuse and mixed identities, and employs unconventional storytelling structure in its screenplay. The film opened at the 57th Cannes Film Festival and, among other awards, won the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Film – Limited Release, in part for its deft portrayal of transsexuality.



Volver (2006)

Volver was a very personal film for Almodóvar, who used elements from his own childhood to craft a story about three generations of women as they deal with sexual abuse, grief, secrets, and death. The film was anchored by a powerful performance by Penélope Cruz, who earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress, the first Spanish actress to do so in that category. 

The Skin I Live In (2011)

The Skin I Live In was Almodóvar’s first foray into psychological horror, and is loosely based on a French novel by Thierry Jonquet. The film stars Antonio Banderas as a plastic surgeon haunted by tragedy who is obsessed with creating burn-proof skin, and ends up keeping a prisoner in his mansion to achieve this. The film reunited Banderas with Almodóvar for the first time since Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and employs a variety of cinematographic and editing techniques inspired by genre filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock, Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, and David Cronenberg. 

Pain and Glory (2019)

Almodóvar’s latest film was released earlier this year and debuted at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, where it competed for the Palme d’Or. Pain and Glory tells the story of a film director whose career has peaked, and again stars Antonio Banderas, who won the Best Actor award at Cannes for his work. The film was unsurprisingly a critical hit, and became the highest-grossing Spanish film of the year.


What’s your favorite Pedro Almodóvar film? Let us know in the comments or @ us on your favorite social media platform! 

New York Film Academy (NYFA) Remembers The Life and Achievements of Cult Filmmaker Larry Cohen

Screenwriter, producer, and director Larry Cohen, a filmmaker with a passionate and loyal fanbase, has passed away at the age of 82 (his birth year has often been reported as 1941, but his family and census records confirmed that this is incorrect, as reported in the New York Times). Cohen, whose career in film spanned several decades, was best known for his unique work in the B-movie genre scene.

Cohen was born and raised in New York City before going to film school. He had a particular passion for noir films, as well as the work of Casablanca director Michael Curtiz. He turned the former into a career in the late 1950s and 1960s, writing for crime television shows like The Defenders and The Fugitive, and later in the 1970s writing for Colombo.

It wasn’t long before Cohen pivoted to more genre fare, creating the NBC Western series Branded in 1965 and the sci-fi ABC series The Invaders in 1967. He began writing films during this period as well, including the sequel to The Magnificent Seven.

His directorial debut was the 1972 crime comedy Bone, starring Yaphet Kotto, which Cohen also wrote and produced. Two years later Cohen made It’s Alive, a horror film about a killer mutant baby, which was eventually a modest hit. The film was scored by frequent Hitchcock-collaborator Bernard Hermann and its pharmaceuticals-adjacent story showcased a career characteristic of Cohen to incorporate social commentary into his B-movie horror. The film spawned two sequels and a 2009 reboot.

His genre films also typically included police and crime elements to them, including 1976’s God Told Me To. In the 1980s, Cohen built a reputation for producing, directing, and writing low-budget horror films with a cult following. 1982’s Q: The Winged Serpent featured a giant monster flying around midtown Manhattan while also focusing on two detectives following a multiple homicide case.

Cohen’s best-known film, The Stuff, came out shortly after, in 1985. The film includes a killer alien substance that the general public became addicted to, and included social commentary on consumerism, advertising, and the tobacco industry. Despite its over-the-top premise, the film is still regarded as one of the best low-budget horror films of the 20th century.

Cohen continued to write and direct for the next few decades, including the Maniac Cop films; Joel Schumacher’s Phone Booth, starring Colin Farrell and Forest Whitaker; and Cellular, starring Kim Basinger, Chris Evans, and Jason Statham. In 2006, he was invited to participate in the TV anthology series Masters of Horror along with other notable filmmakers like John Carpenter, Wes Craven, David Cronenberg, Joe Dante, Dario Argento, James Gunn, Robert Rodriguez, and Guillermo del Toro.

In 2017, Cohen participated in a documentary that profiled his career, King Cohen: The Wild World of Filmmaker Larry Cohen, which featured actors and filmmakers including Martin Scorsese, J.J. Abrams, and John Landis. The film recently screened at New York Film Academy-Los Angeles along with a Q&A panel with the filmmakers. Cohen was scheduled to appear but was ultimately unable to attend; he lamentably passed away two days later.

After news of Cohen’s death became public, there was an outpouring of praise for him on social media by both his peers and by filmmakers who cite him as an influence in their own work, including Guillermo del Toro, Edgar Wright, and Joe Dante.

The New York Film Academy is deeply saddened by the loss of an auteur filmmaker who carried both a respect and a passion for his craft. Rest in peace, Larry Cohen.


New York Film Academy (NYFA) Remembers The Life and Achievements of Actress & Trailblazing Director Penny Marshall

Filmmaker, producer, and actress Penny Marshall has died at the age of 75. In addition to being a three-time Golden Globe nominee for her starring role on sitcom juggernaut Laverne & Shirley, Marshall was a groundbreaking director for Hollywood, helming such films as Big, A League of Their Own, and Academy Award for Best Picture nominee Awakenings.

Marshall, born Carole Penny Marshall in 1943, was the daughter of tap dance instructor Marjorie Marshall and Tony Marshall, a film director and producer. She was born and raised in the Bronx, New York, and originally attended the University of New Mexico, where she studied psychology and math.

In 1967, as a divorced, single mother, she moved to Hollywood, where her brother Garry Marshall had established a burgeoning career as a television writer. In 1971, she married actor and filmmaker Rob Reiner. During this time she found various small roles acting for television and film, but in 1972 American audiences started to take notice of her as Myrna Turner on The Odd Couple.

Her most prominent role in television came in 1976 as Laverne in the Happy Days spin-off, Laverne & Shirley. The beloved sitcom was a ratings hit and lasted 178 episodes. She continued to appear in various television roles up until 2016 — including a guest appearance on the first-ever produced episode of The Simpsons — with her final role on the most recent remake of The Odd Couple.

Penny Marshall

While her popularity as an actress cannot be understated, it was her role as a director that proved to be most influential for breaking traditional Hollywood gender norms. In 1986, she directed the action comedy Jumpin’ Jack Flash, starring Whoopi Goldberg. But it was two years later when Marshall would break records with the fantasy comedy Big, starring Tom Hanks as a 13-year-old boy trapped in an adult man’s body.

The film has since become one of the 1980s’ most famous films, helping propel Hanks into superstardom and still making Best Of lists to this day. With a domestic box office of $116 million, Penny Marshall became the first woman to ever direct a film that grossed over $100 million, a feat that paved the way for other successful filmmakers like Nora Ephron, Patty Jenkins, and Ava DuVernay.

Marshall followed Big with Awakenings, starring Robert DeNiro and Robin Williams, and based on Oliver Sacks’ renowned memoir. The film received positive reviews and was an Academy Award for Best Picture nominee, but it was her next movie that may be best remembered: 1992’s A League of Their Own. Both a drama and comedy, the period film tells a fictionalized account of a true story — the advent of a professional women’s baseball league. The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League was instituted in the 1940s as many American men, including professional baseball players, were fighting overseas in World War II.

The film starred Geena Davis and Tom Hanks, and was an instant hit with critics and audiences alike. It was the second of Marshall’s films to gross over $100 million at the box office, and, in 2012, it was preserved by the Library of Congress after being deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Marshall followed A League of Their Own with three more features, including Renaissance Man starring Danny DeVito, The Preacher’s Wife starring Whitney Houston and Denzel Washington, and Riding in Cars with Boys starring Drew Barrymore. She also produced and appeared in numerous films and televisions shows throughout the 1990s and 2000s.

Her brother Garry was a guest of the New York Film Academy in 2012, where he sat in on an AFA Acting for Film class with Acting Chair Lynda Goodfriend, who, decades earlier, he’d cast in his show Happy Days as Lori Beth. Speaking with NYFA students, Garry went into detail about his long and prolific career, and made sure to mention the many times he collaborated with his sister. Garry Marshall passed away in 2016.

Entertainment seems to run in the Marshall family. Scott Marshall — Penny’s nephew and Garry’s son — is a filmmaking and cinematography instructor at NYFA’s Los Angeles campus, and has acted in several film and television roles as well as directed short films and features.

Penny Marshall

Cindy Williams, television star and the Shirley to Penny Marshall’s Laverne, has also spoken with New York Film Academy students. At a Q&A in 2015, she shared several insights and stories with students, and recounted the first time she and Penny Marshall appeared as Laverne & Shirley in an episode of Happy Days. The two characters proved so popular that they quickly received their own show.

The New York Film Academy is deeply saddened by the loss of a multi-talented Hollywood icon and groundbreaking filmmaker who set an example for many future women directors to come. Rest in peace, Penny Marshall.

10 Reasons Why Hitchcock Will Always Be One of the Great Directors

Alfred Hitchcock is arguably one of the most well-known directors in the last century. Born Aug. 13, 1899, the English film director created more than 50 movies before he passed away in 1980. There is no denying that he changed the way audiences watched films — for example, Hitchcock demanded specific start times for “Psycho,” and audiences were asked to not give away the end of the movie.

Hitchcock may have never won an Oscar for best director, but in honor of his birthday, we’ve outlined 10 reasons as to why Hitchcock will always be one of the best directors.


Visual Storytelling

Hitchcock started out as a silent film director, so he was always finding ways to add information to his films. The practice led to constant innovation of storytelling, which is something that Hitchcock maintained throughout his film career.


A mise-en-scène is a term for a group of elements that composes a shot. While the audience may not pay attention to all the elements in a particular shot, the combination of elements helps the audience dive into the film’s story. Hitchcock used mise-en-scène to build suspense, climax, curiosity and the likeness of his characters.


Hitchcock liked to focus on themes that revolved around obsession and morale. Among other elements, sub-themes in Hitchcock’s movies included voyeurism, authority, death, sexuality, guilt, and family. He used these sub-themes to add depth to his storytelling and build strong relationships with the audience.


Through innovative scriptwriting, Hitchcock was able to exercise control over the audience. He would often put an emphasis on psychological characterization of his main and secondary characters. In his films “Rebecca” and “Shadow of a Doubt,” he uses voice over for the opening sequences to cast a gloomy and mysterious shadow over the entire film.

Use of Music

Hitchcock was very specific about how he used music in his movies, whether it was to create excitement, heighten tension, or build toward a climax. Even his characters are fascinated by music, and, as the New York Times’ Edward Rothstein points out, it can be argued that music itself functions at the level of a character in Hitchcock films.

Film Editing

Alfred Hitchcock's Under Capricorn 1949

Hitchcock believed that film editing could only do so much for a film. But if you cut the scene correctly, used the right music, and the mood was set correctly through storytelling. Some of the best film editing done by Hitchcock can be seen in “Rope,” “Under Capricorn,” and “Sabotage.”

Actors’ Performances

Hitchcock held the actors’ performances in high regard, yet is known to have been a very controlling and visionary director on set, allowing little time or room for input from his actors. A very particular director, Hitchcock famously did not set much stock in method acting or improvisation and kept a tight reign on the action on set. He was also known to frequently collaborate with the same actors.

Keep the Story Simple

Simple, linear stories allow the audience to easily follow along. Removing excess material and keeping each scene crisp was essential for Hitchcock. He knew that a confusing or abstract story would bore the audience, and streamlined his films to maximize suspense.

Contrasting Situations

Hitchcock loved to build tension into a scene by using contrasting situations — two unrelated things happening at once. When an audience focuses on one event that is building momentum, another interrupts. The second event is usually a meaningless distraction, meant to throw the audience off. One example is in Hitchcock’s 1956 film, “The Man Who Knew Too Much.” Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day are in the middle of a tense phone call when guests, who are laughing and joking, start to arrive. The arrival of the joyful guests serves as a foil and complication for the real momentum of the scene.

Camera Movement

Camera movement is one component that supports visual storytelling, but it’s important to note why Hitchcock valued it so much. He believed that the camera should take on human qualities: it should roam and playfully look around the room for anything important.

By panning a room and showing close-ups of objects, the camera allows the audience to see certain plot elements and feel like they’re involved in uncovering the story. The importance of camera movement stemmed from Hitchcock’s days of working in silent film. Without sound, directors relied heavily on ways of telling the story to the audience visually.

Happy birthday Alfred Hitchcock! Do you have a favorite movie directed by Hitchcock? What are some reasons for watching his films? Let us know below!


NYFA Reviews the 2017 Directors Guild Awards (DGA)

The 69th annual Directors Guild of America Awards took place in Beverly Hills last Saturday, Feb. 4. This prestigious awards ceremony honors outstanding directorial achievement in feature films, documentary, and television shows. This year, many newcomers were nominated — such as Damien Chazelle and Steven Zaillan — along with nominees who were seasoned veterans of the DGA ceremonies, including Garth Davis and Don Ron King. In case you missed the awards, we’ve rounded up the winners, below:

Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film: Damien Chazelle


Damien Chazelle, director of  “La La Land” and “Whiplash,” won the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film for 2016 — the most coveted award. This is Chazelle’s first DGA Award nomination.

Outstanding Directorial Achievement in First-Time Feature Film: Garth Davis (Andrew Walker)

Garth Davis

Garth Davis may have lost to Damien Chazelle for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film, but Davis took Outstanding Directorial Achievement in First-Time Feature Film for “Lion.” In 2009, Davis was nominated for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Commercials for “Shadow Puppets,” U.S. Cellular.

Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Dramatic Series: Miguel Sapochnik


“Game of Thrones” director Miguel Sapochnik won the award for the episode “The Battle of the Bastards” in the category Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Dramatic Series. This is the first time Sapochnik has received a nomination for a DGA Award.

Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Comedy Series: Becky Martin

The winner of Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Comedy Series was Becky Martin for Veep’s episode, “Inauguration.” This is Martin’s first award nomination.

Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Movies for Television and Mini-Series: Steven Zaillian 

Steve Zaillian Writing Jack Ryan Film For Chris Pine

Steven Zaillian took home the DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Movies for Television and Mini-Series. His work in “The Beach” episode of the show “The Night Of” secured Zallian’s first award nomination.

Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Variety/Talk/News/Sports – Regularly Scheduled Programming: Don Ron King

Don Ron King won the award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Variety/Talk/News/Sports — Regularly Scheduled Programming. King is most well-known for his work on “Saturday Night Live” and “Host: Dave Chappelle.” This is King’s 11th DGA award nomination, and he previously won an award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Variety/Talk/News/Sports — Specials, back in 2015.

Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Variety/Talk/News/Sports – Specials: Glenn Weiss

The winner of Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Variety/Talk/News/Sports — Specials was Glenn Weiss for his work “The 70th Annual Tony Awards.” Weiss has nominated a total of 13 times and previously won the award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Variety/Talk/News/Sports — Specials in 2007, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2015. He was also nominated for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Movies for Television and Mini-Series for “Peter Pan Live!” in 2015.

Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Reality Programs: J. Rupert Thompson

The episode, “The Finale — Over the Falls” from “American Grit” secured the award Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Reality Programs for J. Rupert Thompson. This is Thompson’s seventh award nomination.

Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Children’s Programs: Tina Mabry

Tina Mabry won the DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Children’s Programs for her work “An American Girl Story — Melody 1963: Love Has to Win.” This is Mabry’s first DGA Award nomination.

Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Commercials: Derek Cianfrance

The DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Commercials was awarded to Derek Cianfrance for his work with “Chase” for Nike Golf, “Doubts” for Powerade, “Expectations” for Powerade and “Manifesto” for SquareSpace. This was Cianfrance’s first nomination.

Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary: Ezra Edelman

Ezra Edelman’s “O.J.: Made in America” won him the DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary. This is Edelman’s first DGA Award nomination.

Lifetime Achievement & Service Award Recipients

Lifetime Achievement Award in Feature Film: Ridley Scott


Ridley Scott received this award, which is given to a director in recognition of their achievement in motion picture direction. It is the Director’s Guild of America’s highest honor.

DGA President’s Award: Jay D. Roth

The DGA President’s Award was given to Jay D. Roth for leadership and efforts in enhancing the welfare and image of not only of DGA, but the industry overall.

Robert B. Aldrich Service Award: Thomas Schlamme

Thomas Schlamme received this award in recognition of his service to the Directors Guild of America and its membership.

Frank Capra Achievement Award: Marie Cantin

The Frank Capra Achievement Award, which recognizes an assistant director of unit production manager, was given to Marie Cantin for her career achievement in the industry and service to DGA.  

Who is your favorite director to turn to for inspiration, and why? Let us know in the comments below!

7 Directorial Debuts to Watch at Sundance 2017

Sundance: the famous film festival in Park City, Utah, best known for providing big breaks to independent filmmakers — some who are debuting their work for the first time. Famous auteurs like Paul Thomas Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, and David O. Russell got their break debuting their films at Sundance. This year, there is no doubt this proud tradition of highlighting the work of the up-and-coming powerhouse directors of the future will continue. In the spirit of Sundance and to prepare for this year’s festival, we’ve rounded up some breakout directors and films you may want to check out.

1. Flying Lotus/Steven Ellison – “Kuso


The Los Angeles beat scene maestro and prankster behind the Captain Murphy mixtapes didn’t start off as a musician; he got his start at the Los Angeles Film School. It wasn’t until he saw an “Adult Swim” advertisement and submitted a few songs that he gained notoriety. His debut film “Kuso” features “Adult Swim” alums like Tim Heidecker and Hannibal Burress, in a film he describes as “pretty much everything that I’m afraid of.” Oh, and he’s doing the score, too.

2. Taylor Sheridan – “Wind River


Best known for playing David Hale on FX’s “Sons of Anarchy” and writing the screenplays for “Sicario” and “Hell or High Water,” Taylor’s debut film stars Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, and Jon Bernthal, in a thriller involving the FBI’s partnership with a game tracker in an attempt to solve a murder on an Indian Reservation.

3. Zoe Lister-Jones – “Band Aid


Zoe Lister-Jones, the star of CBS’s “Life in Pieces” has a long and varied resume. She’s even recorded a solo album and was a member of The Ladybug Transistor. So it makes sense that her debut film is about a couple who decides to save their marriage by starting a band and writing songs about their fights. The film also features current Seth Myers bandleader and “Portlandia” funnyman Fred Armisen.

4. Marti Noxon– “To The Bone


TV veteran Marti Noxon, who got her start as a writer with “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and recently worked as a producer on “Mad Men,” makes her debut with this medical drama about a young woman struggling with anorexia, featuring Keanu Reeves (in a non-action role!) as her doctor.

5. Dave McCary– “Brigsby Bear


Before he was an SNL alum, Kyle Mooney was best known for his odd delivery and manchild characters in sketches filmed by his comedy group Good Neighbor. When the entire group was hired on to SNL, they brought along Dave McCary, who debuts with “Brigsby Bear, a film about a children’s TV show produced for an audience of one that abruptly ends. Kyle Mooney stars as the audience member who decides to solve the mystery behind the show and finish the plot for himself.

6. Macon Blair– “I Don’t Feel At Home in This World Anymore


Macon Blair has been on a bit of a tear as an actor, starring in revenge thriller “Blue Ruin” and neo-nazi siege horror “Green Room.” His film “I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore” is about a woman whose house gets burglarized. With the help of her neighbor, she begins attempting to track down the burglars. Hopefully he can build on the successes of his prior films. The film, featuring former Hobbit Elijah Wood, has been picked up by Netflix, so it looks like he’s done just that.

Which films and directors are you following as you prepare for this year’s Sundance Festival? Let us know in the comments below!


From Kevin Smith to Ava DuVerney: 7 Filmmakers You NEED to Follow on Instagram

Social media isn’t just a tool for film promotion or connecting with fans. As a visual and performing artist, social media can also be a tool for your own inspiration and growth! To that end, we’ve rounded up seven established filmmakers on Instagram who are guaranteed to inject a little inspiration into your news feed.

1. Kevin Smith

Instagram Handle: @ThatKevinSmith

Followers: 864k

Screen Shot 2016-11-03 at 5.33.21 PM

The big man in a hockey shirt who needs no introduction. No matter whether you love or hate his unique brand of cult comedy, his very candid Instagram account is wholly deserving on a list of filmmakers everyone should follow.

What to Expect: A bucket of geek culture, behind-the-scenes snippets and pizza.

2. Morgan Spurlock

Instagram Handle: @MorganSpurlockNYC

Followers: 15.5k

Screen Shot 2016-11-03 at 5.34.24 PM

Multi-talented writer, filmmaker, documentarian and political activist who you’ll probably know from one of the most impacting documentaries of last decade: Super Size Me.

What to Expect: The family life of a filmmaker laid bare, and a (not wholly-surprising) lack of burgers.


Instagram Handle: @Tiff_Net

Followers: 45k

Screen Shot 2016-11-03 at 5.35.23 PM

The official account of the Toronto International Film Festival — and even by global festival standards, it’s an impeccably maintained Instagram account.

What to Expect: Simply gorgeous film-related eye candy.

4. Emmanuel Lubezki

Instagram Handle: @Chivexp

Followers: 354k

Screen Shot 2016-11-03 at 5.36.30 PM

Quite possibly the finest cinematographer currently active, having knocked it out of the park with an entire string of masterpieces, one after another (namely “Children of Men,” “The Tree of Life,” “Gravity,” “Birdman” and “The Revenant”).

What to Expect: Pure poetry.


Instagram Handle: @Radiohead

Followers: 773k

Screen Shot 2016-11-03 at 5.37.44 PM

Not technically a “filmmaker” per se, but we absolutely had to include the audiovisual masters here owing to the exceptional shorts and imagery they frequently share on Instagram.

What to Expect: A lot of surreal food for thought to get your creative juices flowing, from both the band itself and talented fans.

6. Lee Daniels

Instagram Handle: @TheOriginalBigDaddy

Followers: 548k

Screen Shot 2016-11-03 at 5.38.59 PM

The multi-award winning director and producer behind “Precious,” “Monster’s Ball” and “The Butler.”

What to Expect: A lot of heart, a lot of humor, plenty behind-the-scenes clips from Lee’s current show “Empire” (and a few candid celebrity shots thrown in for good measure).

7. Ava DuVernay

Instagram Handle: @Directher

Followers: 390k

Screen Shot 2016-11-03 at 5.39.45 PM

The first black female ever to have won the Best Director Prize at Sundance (for her second flick “Middle of Nowhere”), and also the first black female director to be nominated for a Golden Globe (for her work on “Selma”).

What to Expect: A real inside look into the life of a director (warts and all!).

May your Instagram feed be full of inspiration!

5 Things We Can Learn From New Director Richard Tanne

The year 2016 has been very kind to Richard Tanne. In January he debuted his first feature, “Southside With You,” an unauthorized bio-pic of White House royalty; the current first couple’s first date. He secured two up-and-coming actors, Tika Sumpter and Parker Sawyer, to portray the young Obamas. Tanne even got the film into John Legend’s hands: Legend signed on to executive produce and wrote a song for the film entitled “Start,” coming off his Oscar win for “Glory,” a song he wrote with rapper Common for the film “Selma.

Tanne is on a roll, and there’s a lot aspiring filmmakers, writers, and producers can learn from the actor-turned-director. If you are an aspiring filmmaker looking to learn, we always recommend a combination of learning by doing, and learning from the best. There is always some wisdom to be gleaned from the successes of others. Here are five simple, universal lessons we think our students can learn from Richard Tanne’s recent project, “Southside with You.”

1. Follow Your Passion

Tanne first heard the Obama’s love story during the 2008 election, but it wasn’t until he fell in love himself that he began to revisit the story. “There’s something special about the way the president and the first lady look at each other, and it’s something we’ve seen since the beginning of their rise to prominence. Their connection seems authentic and deep and vibrant. That’s a rare thing in life, and I think it’s an even more rare thing for public figures.”

Years later, after falling in love himself, Tanne realized, “…it wasn’t just kind of a meet-cute story about falling in love. It was also about finding that person who makes you a better version of yourself.”

Producer Robert Teitel said, “When I first met Rich, I remember telling him: ‘I think you were born to do this movie.’ I sensed very early on that the film had been completed in his head for such a long time. There’s nobody but Rich who could tackle it.”

Tanne took the opportunity and ran. He started searching for partners to produce the film with him, which leads us to another valuable lesson…

2. Share Your Work


Tanne began to pitch the character of Michelle Robinson to Tika Sumpter. He sent her a one-page, handwritten outline, and Sumpter was instantly interested. The actress says of that time, “I don’t care if I play Michelle or not. My main goal was to get the film made.” But, if Sumpter did get the role, she already knew whom she wanted to play her character’s mother.

She had been friends with Vanessa Bell Calloway for some time. At one point Sumpter drove over two hours to see Calloway perform her one-woman play “Letters from Zora: In Her Own Words.”

The two actresses had been told over and over again how similar they looked to one another. It seemed like a natural fit.

Once Calloway read the script, she flew herself to Los Angeles for a sit-down meeting with Tanne, saying, “If you think anyone else is playing this part you’re crazy.” Tanne couldn’t believe Calloway was still auditioning. “Just look at ‘Coming to America,’” he said, “look at ‘Love Don’t Cost a Thing.’” Tanne cast her and, with just Mr. Obama left to cast, most of the hard casting work had already been done for him.

3. Work With What You’re Given


Speaking of micro-budgets, it’s rare to do a period piece on a small budget. Even more scarce is a good period piece done with little money. “Southside With You” is set in the summer of 1989 in Chicago. Tanne’s hands were tied as far as locations. The date was real and many people know all the stops the first couple made. The museum was easy enough to retro-fit, as museums often don’t really change. The old community center and movie theater are, for the most part, fixed in look, too.

But what really sells the era is the soundtrack. “Since we didn’t have the money for tons of period details,” Tanne said, “We had to evoke the period in subtler ways. One way to do that was to make the movie look and sound like a movie from the 1980s, so you’d already be in the space.”   

“We knew we wouldn’t have large crane shots, showing us whole neighborhoods where we would need tons of kids wearing retro clothing and streets lined with vintage cars. We just had smaller moments, smaller details to evoke the period, everything from the blanket fabrics on Barack’s chair or Michelle’s family’s couch to the cassette tapes in Barack’s car. We used the 1980s-era Baskin’ Robbins sign in the ice cream store. And there are certain parts of the city that have not changed at all.”

4. Be Prepared


Tanne knew time was going to be of the essence. Shooting a feature on location, with a micro-budget, in 17 days, meant that not one second could be spared. He asked the actors to be off book weeks before they came to set. Across continents, the actors rehearsed over Skype. When they came to set everyone was prepared. Instead of covering two to three pages a day, they were able to cover 10. The film finished on time and on budget.

5. Use Your Success as a Springboard

Tanne isn’t resting on his laurels.

Yes, “Southside With You” won big at Sundance. It’s Tanne’s first feature. It’s hitting theaters this weekend, and many might be tempted to kick up their heels and revel in their success — but Tanne is already working on two new projects.

First, Tanne is working on an unannounced Pixar film that he has been writing for the past couple of years. Second, Tanne is already writing his next feature, “The Roman,” about Julius Cesar. IMDB describes the project as, “An origin story in the vein of ‘Batman Begins’ that envisions the future dictator as a young general in the Roman army in a rarely discussed period of his life. Kidnapped by Cilician pirates and enslaved on their prison island, Caesar escapes with his men, and the decisions he makes during this time directly affect the political and social upheaval happening in Rome.”

Any more great insights for new directors? Share your tips in the comments below!


Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred HitchcockName: Alfred Joseph Hitchcock

Essential DVDs: The 39 Steps (1935), The Lady Vanishes (1938), Rebecca (1940), Shadow Of A Doubt (1943), Notorious (1946), Strangers On A Train (1951), Rear Window (1954), Vertigo (1958), North By Northwest (1959), Psycho (1960), The Birds (1963)

Oscars: The Irving Thalberg Award (1968)

In His Own Words: “I am a typed director. If I made Cinderella, the audience would immediately be looking for a body in the coach.”

Take a flight of fancy and imagine if Alfred Hitchcock was plying his trade in Hollywood today. Back at his old Universal stomping ground, he’d probably knock off a Collateral or two, play himself on The Simpsons, exec produce episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents CSI Leytonstone (the place of his birth) and still find time for the odd curio designed to rub everyone up the wrong way –perhaps a shot for shot remake of Good Will Hunting.

Yet the thing is you don’t have to imagine Hitchcock in modern movies, the seeds of his brilliance are scattered around the current crop of Hollywood helmers. The powers of audience manipulation of Spielberg. The controlled precision of Mann. The detached glee of the Coens. The twisted sexual subtext of Lynch. The shameless self-promotion of Tarantino. The waistline of Michael Moore. It is all present in Hitchcock. Every filmmaker working over the past thirty years has been touched by Hitchcock’s greatness, some lightly (The Wachowski’s Vertigo-inspired rooftop chase in The Matrix), others wholesale (Mel Brooks High Anxiety, Brian De Palma’s career). However many times he has been deigned a Vaunted Auteur –Tarantino once dubbed the study of his work “Film Buff 101” –Hitchcock’s influence, 25 years after his death is still without parallel.

Hitchcock’s is a career spanning 54 years, traversing 65 films, two continents and practically every technical revolution (silents, sound, colour, even, as in Dial M For Murder, 3D). There were some bizarre experiments: remaking his own 1934 film, The Man Who Knew Too Much, some 22 years later, passing off ten long takes as one seamless shot (Rope) and creating a whole drama within the confines of a lifeboat (erm Lifeboat). There were some departures from house style; the romantic frippery of Mr And Mrs Smith, the courtroom drama of The Paradine Case and, in musical parody Elstree Calling, the bizarre spectacle of an Alfred Hitchcock directed custard pie fight. En route, there have also been some misfires; Stage Fright, Torn Curtain, Topaz. But even the clunkers bore great bits –witness the fistfight in Torn Curtain that demonstrates how hard it is to actually kill a man –and a Hitchcock film always sang with the possibilities of cinema.

From his early UK work –Number 13 to Jamaica Inn –to the slicker stylish US output –Rebecca to Family Plot –cinema’s greatest heavyweight filmmaker (at his lardiest in the late ’30s, Hitchcock weighed in at 300lbs) delivered that rare thing: crowdpleasing bravura cinema that can be lapped up by the masses yet still complex enough to be pored over by speccy four-eyed academics. No filmmaker can count as many great fllms on a CV; (deep breath) The 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes, Rebecca, Shadow Of A Doubt (reputedly Hitchcock’s own personal fave), Notorious, Strangers On A Train, Rear Window, Vertigo, North By Northwest, Psycho, The Birds. And these are just the can’t-argue-with masterpieces. In the process, he also invented the Filmmaker As Public Figure, cameoing in his own films (starting with The Lodger), extending his persona to books and TV and offering colourful, usually completely false, soundbite in interviews.

Renowned for a mastery of must see- must-talk-about set-pieces –shower stabbings, crop duster dust-ups, avian attic attacks –Hitchcock’s real skill was making silly, often implausible stories engaging and compulsive. Poke around the narrative foundations of The 39 Steps or Vertigo or North By Northwest and you’ll discover that they are built on a bedrock of coincidence and absurdity. Yet the cinematic sleight of hand is so deft, the atmospheres are so intoxicating that you never once question it. What partly makes the films so rich is the dynamic between Hitchcock’s cold, calculated approach and the human passions (and perversions) of the characters trapped in his murky world. Late in life, Hitchcock admitted that two of his then current guilty pleasures were Burt Reynolds redneck-pleaser Smokey And The Bandit and Disney’s pooch parable Benji. Both share an uncomplicated lightness that rarely permeated his own work. While there is playfulness (especially in the Brit flicks and To Catch A Thief), Hitchcock’s movies boasts a pessimism rare in American cinema.

Influenced by Russian horror merchant Val Lewton, Spanish surrealist Luis Bunuel and German Expressionist Fritz Lang –Hitchcock cited Lang’s Der Mude Tod (1922) as his favourite film –Hitchcock forged a consistent universe that sprung almost fully formed from his Catholic psyche, a world dominated by emotional dysfunction, voyeurism, sexual guilt, innocent men accused, icy blondes, overpowering mothers and psycho killers all played out against purposefully dodgy rear screen projections and often ending with a chase over a famous landmark. Marked by consistent collaborations with genius artisans –composer Bernard Herrmann, cinematographer Robert Burks, editor George Tomasini and graphic guru Saul Bass –it remains among the most coherent visions in movie history: take his name off the credits and you could still identify the director in a heartbeat.

Hitchcock’s oft-misquoted pronouncement that actors are “like cattle” –he actually said actors should be treated like cattle –belies the fact that many of Hollywood’s finest did their best work under his direction. Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Anthony Perkins, Sean Connery (in Marnie, Hitchcock makes manifest the darkness implied in James Bond) and, in particular, James Stewart found depths and tones that they never found anywhere else. Allied to his underrated skill with actors is the thrill of technical assurance, the sense that the camera and the cut are always exactly in the right place at the right time. The style is distant, elegant and succinct –when Hitchcock received the Irving Thalberg Award at the 1968 Oscars, he made the shortest acceptance speech of all time: “thank you” –assembled with a precision that makes Swiss clockmakers look slapdash by comparison. Yet in all the buttoned-down formalism, there are moments of wild expressionism –the Dali designed dream sequence in Spellbound, the flashes of red to indicate Marnie’s psychological scarring –that surprise and overwhelm you.

Before he died in 1980, he’d joked that he wanted the motto “This Is What Happens To Little Boys When They Are Naughty” chiselled on his tombstone. It is a fitting epitaph for someone who spent a career revelling in life beyond niceness and convention. Yet perhaps what he ended up with is equally apt, an ode to complicity and his love of bad jokes: “I’m in on a plot”. And, thankfully, he let the rest of the world in too.

Martin Scorsese

Martin ScorseseName: Martin Scorsese

Essential DVDs: Mean Streets (1973); Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980); King of Comedy (1983), After Hours (1985), Goodfellas (1990), Age of Innocence (1993), Casino (1995), Kundun (1997), Gangs of New York (2002), The Aviator (2004), The Departed (2006), The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

Oscars: Best Director and Best Picture (The Departed)

In His Own Words: “I think when you’re young and have that first burst of energy and make five or six pictures in a row that tell the stories of all the things in life you want to say, maybe those are the films that should have won me the Oscar.”

When the Academy convenes in a year a Martin Scorsese film is in contention, the phrase “America’s greatest living director” seems to magnetically attach itself to sentences containing the director’s name. It’s rather odd, then, that Scorsese has never won an Oscar. His collaborators —editors, actors, actresses, cinematographers, production designers —have reaped awards in their droves. But not little Marty.

It seems inconceivable, a travesty. After all, this is the man who detonated Travis Bickle upon New York’s unsuspecting underbelly in Taxi Driver. The man who unflinchingly traced the self-destructive descent of Raging Bull’s Jake La Motta. The man who with Goodfellas seduced a generation with the glamour of life as a gangster, before gleefully rubbing their noses in its repugnant, violent flipside. But then that’s the problem with Scorsese –at his best it feels like he’s almost too raw, too honest, too dark for the mainstream to let him into its comfortable bed.

It’s the nature of his material: abrasive and challenging. He refuses to flinch from the ugliness of the lives he portrays; typically those of alienated and morally compromised characters stumbling through modern life, grasping at some elusive metaphysical salvation. Vietnam veteran Travis Bickle, a pressure-cooker of frustration, disgusted with both New York’s festering nightlife and his crippling inability to communicate finds salvation in violence. Jake La Motta, the boxer forced to compromise his integrity who viciously avenges his lack of self-esteem on his wife and family. Henry Hill, the Bronx kid seduced by the exhilaration of being a gangster, only to taste a cocaine-charged cocktail of paranoia and brutality. Three of Scorsese’s most resonant central characters, all rooted in New York. Which is no coincidence.

The son of Sicilian immigrants, Scorsese was raised in Manhattan’s Little Italy, and arguably his best work all derives from this teeming milieu. As he saw it, the two career options in the “spaghetto” were those twin pillars of Sicilian life: organised religion and organised crime. You either worshipped God or the godfathers, and the pull between these two opposite poles, each with its own system of beliefs, ethics and punishments, plays out through Scorsese’s films. Even his earliest works are replete with religious themes and iconography, as if in atonement for his own lapsed Catholicism (Scorsese had originally studied to become a priest). Boxcar Bertha sees a criminal crucified to a train carriage. Mean Streets finds Harvey Keitel’s Charlie wrestling with the conflicting demands of his mob bosses and his Catholic conscience. The logical culmination was The Last Temptation Of Christ, whose portrayal of Jesus (not to mention a fallen Mary) brought ecclesiastical brickbats.

In stark counterpoint to such spiritual explorations is the violence that pervades much of Scorsese’s work. Ugly, unflinching, flirting with the gratuitous: Scorsese can’t seem to make up his mind if he is repulsed or titillated, as often can’t we, his audience. While the climactic carnage in Taxi Driver serves a cathartic purpose, and the sickening homicides of Goodfellas reprimand the audience for buying into gangsterism’s glamour, Casino’s crescendo of ultra-graphic brutality seems less justifiable. Again, not the stuff of Oscar success.

Even at his most brutal, however, Scorsese’s vision is breathtakingly cinematic. Never more so than when set loose among New York’s steaming sidewalks and skyscraping edifices. In the same way Michael Mann has captured the definitive on-screen aesthetic for Los Angeles, Scorsese has defined his home city. He catalogues life under the toenails of the Big Apple’s tower blocks with the same mixture of fascination and repulsion found in so many of his characters. His daubing of colour among night time cityscapes – the neon-lit processions of human detritus in Taxi Driver and Bringing Out The Dead; the drab, alienating décor of After Hours; even the sweltering, tawdry glow of Casino’s Las Vegas horizon of advertising hoardings — impeccably generates mood and atmosphere.

Never one to milk a trick or a flourish for its own sake, Scorsese is the consummate director. When necessary, his camerawork takes a back seat, remaining muted and distant, as in the sinister, absurd King Of Comedy. Elsewhere, virtuoso steady-cam shots come laden with meaning: we too feel the excitement that electrifies Karen (Lorraine Bracco) in Goodfellas as she is lead through the exclusive back entrance into the mobsters’ night club inner sanctum, traversing kitchens, tables full of respectful wiseguys and finally to stage-front where a comedian is in full flow. The scene then cuts to Henry (Ray Liotta) completing a robbery, accompanied by the stand-up’s pat one-liners. The amoral elation of the successful life of crime is conveyed with immense concision and ease.

Such eloquent inter-cutting speaks volumes of Scorsese’s long term collaborator, editor Thelma Schoonmaker. Working on every Scorsese film since Raging Bull (for which she won an Oscar), her contribution gives the director’s arsenal of steady-cam work, tracking shots and framing its proper deployment. The combination of their skills creates films that exhilarate on every level: visually, intellectually, emotionally, even aurally (it wasn’t Tarantino who trailblazed rock music scores). Her collaborative contribution is only matched by Scorsese’s on-screen avatar Robert De Niro (who plays leading roles in eight of Scorsese’s finest films) and Paul Schrader, writer of Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Last Temptation Of Christ and Bringing Out The Dead.

Following the early 80s, and the Heaven’s Gate-spurred clamp-down on big budget director-led projects, Scorsese veered between small scale independent (the underrated After Hours) and crowd pleasing studio picture (Colour of Money, Cape Fear). Flying the New York coop, films such as Kundun and Age Of Innocence have spanned continents, centuries and genres, to varying degrees of success.

Most recently, his scope — and budgets — have widened further. The Best Director nomination he received for the long anticipated, flawed, though magnificent, Gangs Of New York only highlighted the keenness among the Academy to atone for earlier omissions. But seeing as even his return to form with The Aviator —despite its Academy-pleasing focus on Hollywood heritage —fell short of that elusive gong, the sight of little, hyper-sensitive Marty, brow furrowed, shrinking into his chair at yet another rejection, could be a fixture for a few years to come.

Stanley Kubrick

Stanley KubrickName: Stanley Kubrick

Essential DVDs: Paths of Glory (1957); Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964); 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968); A Clockwork Orange (1971); The Shining (1980); Full Metal Jacket (1987); Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Oscars: Best Visual Effects (2001: A Space Odyssey)

In His Own Words: “Telling me to take a vacation from filmmaking is like telling a child to take a vacation from playing.”

On this day, we remember the legendary and visionary filmmaker, Stanley Kubrick.

If Stanley Kubrick was still alive and had kept to his familiar stately schedule of completing a movie every six or seven years, we’d have been able to enjoy a 13th project. But though the legendary, visionary director may be gone, we have the films; 12 made in half a century of work, each radically different from the others — there was science fiction and sex, heists and horror — yet familiar themes snake through them. There are meditations on the usual big subjects: war, violence, love, sex and death but if he had overriding concerns they cluster around notions of reason and irrationality; control and chaos; of man’s attempts to corral and master the world, to impose his will, and his inevitable failures.

The theme reveals itself in his first properly “Kubrickian” movie, The Killing (he disowned both Killer’s Kiss and Spartacus, the first as an amateur, practice, piece of work, the second as a studio picture on which he was a hired hand) in which a perfectly planned heist slowly unravels with deadly and then comic results. Dr. Strangelove, Paths Of Glory and Full Metal Jacket gaze, horrified, on the phenomenon of war, not so much on its injustice and violence, but on its insane, deadly illogicality. In Dr Strangelove a plan, The Doomsday Machine, supposed to prevent the apocalypse actually precipitates it; in Paths Of Glory a general winds up ordering his troops not to fire on the enemy but on each other, while the first act of Full Metal Jacket (and its best) has R. Lee Ermey (one of only two actors ever encouraged, indeed allowed to improvise dialogue on set –the other was Peter Sellers) turning his troupe of boys into inhuman killing-machines, but the unintended consequence is that one kills his tutor, and then himself. (Shades of HAL here, a being created to be perfect turns on his creators and destroys them.) For Kubrick, a man famously devoted to order and reason, these collapse into chaos and self-contradiction provoked a ghastly fascination.

If the intellectual content of Kubrick’s films has an admirable consistency, then so do his astonishing visuals. He once compared the experience of watching a film to be near to dreaming, and dream motifs and ideas repeat, mutate and develop, symbols that slip from one film to the next. There are the hotels: The Shining’s Overlook obviously but also The Orbiter Hilton in space in 2001, and the New York hotel foyer where Alan Cumming flirts with a nervy Tom Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut. Ballrooms recur in The Shining, Eyes Wide Shut and as the scene of the court-martial in Paths Of Glory. And, of course, there are the lavatories. He had an almost mischievous love of setting vital scenes in the room that has us at our most undeniably human. Jack Torrance confronts his demons and determines to kill his wife and child in the Overlook gents. Tom Cruise begins his odyssey reviving an OD victim, who will subsequently save his life, in a luxurious Manhattan penthouse bathroom while in Full Metal Jacket (starring NYFA Board Member and Master Class Instructor Matthew Modine) Vincent D’Onofrio unleashes his fury and his rifle in a barracks latrine. It’s a version of that old tension again, the perfections and profundities of drama set against the realities of life: we all have to go to the crapper.

No other director has had such a sure technical grasp of the mechanics of filmmaking: the lenses and film stocks; the cameras and contraptions. He pushed the technical envelope with almost every movie he made: he shot by candle-light in Barry Lyndon; he pioneered the now overused Steadicam in The Shining while his last film, Eyes Wide Shut gains its hallucinatory luminousness from his daring, borderline crazy decision to “push-process” the entire movie, a dangerous strategy, usually only used in emergencies since the slightest miss-timing can destroy the negative. But Kubrick managed to marry this technical virtuosity to an almost spiritual understanding of cinema’s intangibles: the relationship of images to our subconscious; the feelings and attitudes that can be provoked by space, colour and movement –the things that make cinema a uniquely potent art form. 2001: A Space Odyssey is as near to a purely visual experience as cinema gets. What dialogue there is is deliberately banal and unhelpful, but the imagery: bones transforming to bomb platforms; a ballet in orbit performed entirely by spaceships; Bowman bathed in HAL’s amniotic-red light as he performs, in the film’s most ironically emotional scene, the termination of a machine, are unforgettable. They communicate more potently than words.

Red, in fact, forms another of Kubrick’s repeating motifs, it gushes out of elevators in The Shining, signals decadence and danger as the scarlet carpet in Eyes Wide Shut, it’s the colour of the typewriter that looms in shot at the house of Alex’s rape victim in A Clockwork Orange and her fetishistically ripped jump-suit.

He didn’t live to see critics tear into his last masterpiece Eyes Wide Shut though he may have been aware of them arming themselves during the dimwit hysteria that surrounded its filming. (None of his films received unalloyed praise immediately, but most were subject to the gradual, embarrassed shifting of critical opinion in the years that followed their release.) Many publicly lamented what they saw as Kubrick’s stunt casting of Cruise and Kidman, bemoaned the film as a crass celebrity fuck-fest and were secretly disappointed when said treat didn’t materialise. In fact, it might be his finest film, synthesising the pessimism of The Shining and the glorious optimism of 2001 into a human experience both intimate and recognisable, the stresses and contradictions of sex and marriage. And it unambiguously cements Kubrick’s belief that film is akin to a dream (mind-bogglingly some critics failed to notice the theme: the clue’s in the title guys). It certainly, like all of them, bears repeated, fascinated re-watching.

In matters of mystery, Stanley Kubrick once said, never explain. His films are, as they always will be, precise, elusive, beguiling. They often seem at first glance to be alien and cold, yet later we find that they can speak to us at our most human level. Unique against the cinematic landscape, they stand like monoliths in a desert.

Sir Ridley Scott

Ridley ScottName: Sir Ridley Scott

Essential DVDs: Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982), Thelma & Louise (1991), Gladiator (2000), Matchstick Men (2003)

Oscars: Best Picture (Gladiator, 2000)

In His Own Words: “I’m a filmmaker, not a documentarian. I try to hit the truth.”

Poor old Tony Scott. He may be one of the finest crafters of blockbuster action working today, but he will forever be huddled in the shadow of his elder brother; the auteur to his movie director. Even in their well-known childhood project, Boy On A Bicycle, it was older brother Ridley calling the shots.

Before music video directors were the great swirling pool from which future filmmakers would be fished, it was TV commercial directors who were prodded and preened for big-screen glory. Scott was one of the first to make the crossover, developing his ability to sell a product in 30 seconds into a knack for selling a story in 100 minutes. Scott’s searing sense of style is what he will be remembered for.

Even without words, a Scott film is recognisable by its play of light and shadow and near-lascivious love of sprawling wide shots and intricate detail. So exacting and skilful is the look of his films, that in the early days he was much accused of favouring style over content. The worlds he created were much bigger than the characters he placed in them. Scott’s cinematic debut, The Duellists, was praised, but for its visual sheen rather than its slight storyline. Even recognised classics Alien and Blade Runner focus far more on mood than on their heroes (it took James Cameron’s Aliens to help us learn more about Ripley besides her penchants for mammoth handguns and scanty knickers). But it’s in Scott’s ability to immerse an audience in an unknown world and to make aloof characters fascinating that he created his cult following. Those are also the two films that illustrate the care he has for his projects even years after, both being subject to reworked Director’s Cuts (a trend Scott popularised).

His power with visuals may be his trademark, but the former ad-man remains unafraid to venture into quieter character pieces. There’s chick-flick Thelma & Louise –that most un-Scott-like of projects –in which he delicately examined the inner clockwork of his heroines, winning the praise of both sexes and critics. Or Gladiator, a roaring sandstorm of Roman architecture and violence come to life around the outwardly granite, inwardly sensitive Maximus. But perhaps it’s the more recent Matchstick Men that shows his full versatility. A film with no room for flash, it’s as delicate a character construction as the title suggests, with one of the best performances Scott has elicited in Alison Lohman’s mysterious woman-child. The mark of a master of any field is that he never stops testing himself.

Akira Kurosawa

Akira KurosawaName: Akira Kurosawa aka The Emperor

Essential DVDs: Ikiru (1952); Seven Samurai (1954); Throne Of Blood (1957); Yojimbo (1961); Sanjuro (1962); Ran (1985)

Oscars: Honorary Award (1990)

In His Own Words: “For me, filmmaking combines everything. That’s the reason I’ve made cinema my life’s work. In films painting and literature, theatre and music come together. But a film is still a film.”

Strip away the literary fabric that now shrouds the works of Akira Kurosawa, delve beneath the Japanese costume and external architecture, and you will discover the throbbing heartbeat of the Everyman. His canon is neither esoteric nor arcane, simply a collection of works that explores universal themes: man’s labour for fulfillment; the necessity for humane action in the tornado of an oppressive world; that world’s propensity to disguise the truth beneath a veneer of deception. In fact Kurosawa has often been credited with reflecting an image of his native culture that Westerners can easily grasp; he made films that seem intrinsically Japanese, yet prove universally popular.

Significantly, while Kurosawa set out to reinvigorate a Japanese cinema subdued by defeat in WWII, the filmmaker himself drew much inspiration from the West. He trained as a painter in a Western art school, absorbing a love of non-Occidental literature and film as well as painting, dipping into this treasure trove throughout his career. He wove tales with the threads of Shakespeare (Hamlet in The Bad Sleep Well; Macbeth in Throne Of Blood), Dostoyevsky (The Idiot) and Gorki (The Lower Depth), while the genius of John Ford shone through the sweeping, painterly compositions of his epic period films.

Indeed, it was his visual inventiveness, perhaps above everything else, that cemented Kurosawa’s reputation, inspiring slavish remakes of his films (from 1957’s Magnificent Seven right up to last year’s King Arthur) and a list of fans that includes the cream of modern moviemakers, many of whom are featured within these covers, all drawn to the banner he thrust into the ground with his most famous film, Seven Samurai. All Kurosawa’s movies showcase the director’s dazzling technical artistry, but it is those that spin round the vortex of action which benefit most. Where better than the field of conflict to contrast benign judgements with malign, to offset social chaos with humane actions? Matching his style to his content, Seven Samurai remains the Kurosawa masterpiece, whipping up bold effects and contrasting moments – intense wind and rain, violent wipes to join the scenes, fast-tracking shots, montages of action, all hewn from a creative temperament that that embraced the unorthodox. He near perfected his much-loved bloody, violent montage.

Sift through the history of Japanese cinema and Kurosawa’s lustre may fade when compared to earlier filmmakers Yasujiro Ozu, Kenji Mizoguchi and Teinosuke Kinogasa, but without Kurosawa their work would not have found such a fertile audience in the West. Akira Kurosawa was a giant among Japanese filmmakers, both literally and metaphorically. Standing at almost six feet tall, he towered over most of his national peers; it is fitting that his action movies still tower over the innumerable imitators that have followed in their wake.

Peter Jackson

Peter JacksonName: Peter Jackson

Essential DVDs: Braindead (1992); Heavenly Creatures (1994); The Fellowship Of The Ring (2001); The Two Towers (2002); Return Of The King (2003)

Oscars: Best Director, Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay (Return Of The King, 2003)

In His Own Words: “What I don’t like are pompous, pretentious movies…I have a moronic sense of humour.”

Peter Jackson is a director who seemed to arrive on the Oscar podium a fully formed auteur without the decades of turmoil to back it up. Before making the biggest trilogy of all time, outside a dedicated fanbase and New Zealand, there was awareness of an ability to realise the most complicated book, bar The Bible, in a way that would be so stunningly lauded both by critics and fans. Yet the hints, not to say the talent or the tribulation, were to be found. He was adept at fabulation, with a particular brand of Gilliamesque schlock horror blended with wry humour (and impactful effect work on a very low budget); just try Braindead’s deranged blood bath. With Heavenly Creatures, the real-life tale of teenage murderers, he indicated that he could handle stories with weight and had a fine eye for casting (Kate Winslet, came care of Mr. Jackson, as would Orlando Bloom). With The Frighteners, hooded figures were swooping over Wellington, a comedy-horror throbbing with atmosphere. All roads, were in fact, leading to Bag End.

From the day he was given a Super-8 camera at the age of eight, Jackson had a fascination with special effects and a fearsome determination to find ways to project his imagination onto the screen. For his first junior project, World War II, he would burn holes directly into the celluloid to simulate the flash of gunfire. For his first major project, the alien gore fest, Bad Taste, he would commandeer his mother’s oven for baking prosthetics, forcing the family to live almost entirely on fried sausages. And when money eventually became more prevalent he would set up Weta digital to create the doughy fantasy land of Heavenly Creatures and eventually the gruesome hordes of Uruk-hai, mumakil and orcs that ravaged Middle-earth.

But none of Jackson’s films is remembered primarily for effects, because he never lets them become the focus. More than any other filmmaker he has managed to use CGI and prosthetics to help tell stories, rather than to simply provide spectacle. In Heavenly Creatures, the CG fantasylands gave a view into the heads of the heroines, always keeping character front and centre. In Rings the battles always rage around a nucleus of well-drawn characters (Jackson writes as vividly as he shoots).

Where George Lucas, whose lead Jackson seems to be following in terms of big budget independence from Hollywood, used his digital mastery to create a photo-realistic fantasy world without believable human inhabitants, Jackson breeds characters first and then erects magisterial settings around them. An intelligent treatment of material coupled with his ability to play to the crowd (even Rings still shows traces of the mischievous gruesome humour of Bad Taste and zombie gadabout Braindead) has won him almost unparalleled respect from audiences and critics. How many other directors could announce that they’re remaking a recognised classic like King Kong and be greeted with cheers rather than howls of derision? He’s fearless, and the best part is, he’s barely even started.

Quentin Tarantino

Quentin TarantinoName: Quentin Jerome Tarantino

Essential DVDs: Reservoir Dogs (1992), Pulp Fiction (1994), Jackie Brown (1997), The Kill Bill Collection (2005), Inglourious Basterds (2009), Django Unchained (2012)

Oscars: Best Screenplay (Pulp Fiction, 1994), Best Screenplay (Django Unchained 2012)

In His Own Words: “When people ask me if I went to film school I tell them, ‘No, I went to films’.”

It must be every film geek’s wildest dream: you start out as a humble video-store clerk, and wind up slamming an adrenaline-loaded syringe into the solar plexus of the American indie movie scene, becoming a filmmaker so influential, film critics turn your name into an adjective. It’s not even like you need to worry about being original; in fact, those who criticise will still praise you for your cinematic magpie-work, conceeding that at least you steal from the best: Howard Hawks, François Truffaut, Sergio Leone…

With his perma-smirk features and breathless jabbermouth conversational style exuding an air of limitless enthusiasm and glee, it’s clear Quentin Tarantino knows he’s hit his personal mother lode and isn’t about to take it for granted. But it’s not like he lucked out, after all, his Reservoir Dogs script was lambasted when he first workshopped it at the Sundance Institute in 1991. He could have given up there and then. Yet one year later, he was back in Utah with the finished product. A heist movie where you don’t see the heist. A noir shot in Californian sunshine. A crime movie which opens with some guy — Quentin himself, of course — verbally assaulting the audience with a theory about Madonna’s Like A Virgin. People didn’t know what to make of it. Even the projector spazzed out, breaking down halfway through the first ever screening. Soon after, cinema was never quite the same again.

Back to that well-earned adjective, then: Tarantinoesque. Fractured, chronologically reshuffled narratives; violence often played for laughs as much as for shocks; incidental dialogue scenes pushed centre stage; astute, bold use of music… And that’s not even mentioning his numerous visual trademarks.

That’s the style, but what’s the substance? QT’s detractors point to his films as moral vacuums more concerned with coolness than warmth, all those winking tributes to the director’s faves sitting where there should be some kind of thematic throughline. Well, here’s a theory for you: Tarantino’s movies are all about trust, primarily between mentors and pupils –the betrayal of which is the worst thing one can do to the other. Mr Orange certainly knows that when he tells White, who’s trusted him enough to tell him is real name, that he’s really a cop. In Pulp Fiction, Butch betrays Marsellus Wallace’s trust by not throwing the fight; Vincent lives up to it by not having an affair with Wallace’s wife. Jackie Brown and Ray Nicolette need to trust each other to ensnare Ordell. And Bill’s terrible punishment of his number-one DiVA was basically for a breach of trust, her trying to both flee him and — most offensive to her mentor — her own bad nature. Yes, it is just honour-among-thieves, but it’s as close to morality as you’re going to get from the man who once said, “If I’ve made it a little easier for artists to work in violence, great! I’ve accomplished something…”

Orson Welles

Orson WellesName: George Orson Welles aka Orson Welles

Essential DVDs: Citizen Kane (1941), The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), Macbeth (1948); Touch Of Evil (1958)

Oscars: Best Screenplay (Citizen Kane, 1942); Honorary Award (1971)

In His Own Words: “I started at the top and worked down.”

“The biggest electric train set any boy ever had,” pronounced Orson Welles in 1940, surveying his new domain — or, at least, that corner of it occupied by RKO, the studio that had lured the 24-year-old wunderkind to Hollywood with the promise of absolute freedom to make his directorial debut in whatever fashion he saw fit. Having conquered both theatre and radio in spectacular style, Welles’ gargantuan ego was inflated to bursting point. He quickly abandoned plans to adapt Joseph Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness and opted instead, in a fit of monumental hubris, to launch an all-out assault on one of the most powerful men in America.

That Citizen Kane is an epic tour de force, fully justifying its reputation as the greatest American film ever made, goes without saying. But beyond its cataclysmic brilliance, it encapsulates everything that is so compelling about Welles. He must have known that Kane, a sublime hatchet job on media baron William Randolph Hearst, would bring the temple walls crashing round his ears, but he had the balls to do it anyway. Welles’ superhuman talent was forever wedded to a streak of willful iconoclasm that compelled him to punch the self-destruct button just to hear the sirens wail. Even so, his stature as a filmmaker rests as much on the battlelines he drew against the forces of mediocrity as it does on his supreme artistry. He paid the full price for his audacity. In Kane’s turbulent wake, RKO butchered The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) and Journey Into Fear (1943). They took away his new toy and showed him the door.

A pariah in Hollywood, Welles declined to eat crow. Scorning the iron rule of the studios, he took hired-gun assignments only out of necessity, usually appalling his paymasters with the results. Although recognized now as the masterpieces they are, both The Lady From Shanghai (1948) and Touch Of Evil (1958) went belly up, thanks to Welles’ absolute refusal to compromise.

It’s painfully ironic that of Welles’ many unfinished films, his most cherished was an adaptation of Don Quixote. He spent his exile in Europe vaingloriously tilting at windmills, seizing every scrap of work available to fund his own projects. His ambitions invariably outpaced his means, but his indomitable spirit shows through in the Falstaffian Chimes At Midnight (1966) and the mischievous F For Fake (1975). Even at his lowest ebb, hawking cheap sherry, Birdseye peas and ‘probably the blandest lager in the world’, he still had fire in his belly. Listening to the bootleg of one of these sessions is undeniably sad, but there is something manifestly heroic in this once-towering figure, brought down by magnificent obsession, railing at the quaking tape ops like Lear bellowing into the storm. It’s as if what’s at stake is not a two-minute spot for frozen vegetables but the thing he was permitted to hold in his grasp just once: a work of art that could change the world.

Woody Allen

Woody AllenName: Allen Stewart Konigsberg aka Woody Allen

Essential DVDs: Sleeper (1973); Love And Death (1975); Annie Hall (1977); Manhattan (1979); Broadway Danny Rose (1984); Hannah and Her Sisters (1987); Crimes And Misdemeanors (1989); Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993); Bullets Over Broadway (1994), Match Point (2005), Midnight in Paris (2011), Blue Jasmine (2013)

Oscars: Best Screenplay, Best Director, Best Picture (Annie Hall, 1978); Best Screenplay (Hannah And Her Sisters, 1987); Best Orignal Screenplay (Midnight in Paris, 2011)

In His Own Words: “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work, I want to achieve it by not dying.”

If ever a line has come back to haunt Woody Allen it is the one spoken by one of the aliens in Stardust Memories, an uncharacteristically sour moment of introspection he borrowed from Fellini: “We like your films, especially the early funny ones.” Allen’s weary response whenever this is thrown in his face is that not all of his early films were funny, and not all his later ones have been serious. The irony here is that most of his recent films, despite their intentions, have been about as funny as a burning orphanage. Still, he has a point.

With formative influences comprising The Marx Brothers and Ingmar Bergman, Allen’s oeuvre was always going to be a mixed bag. There were glimpses of the existentialist in Borsht Belt clothing as far back as 1972’s Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex (spoofing Antonioni in the female orgasm segment), 1973’s Sleeper (a sly Orwellian satire) and 1975’s Love And Death (philosophical debates on the battlefield, Tolstoy, Einstein, the whole bit). And throughout his career, he has flattered the urban sophisticates who make up the bulk of his audience with asides on Kierkegaard, McLuhan and Mahler, even as the masturbation one-liners came thick and fast (if you’ll pardon the expression). It should also be clear that you can’t mine his level of neurosis for belly laughs indefinitely without going completely off the dial.

His ‘serious’ films have not all been dreary experimental duds like September (1987) or Shadows And Fog (1992) either. Crimes And Misdemeanors, to cite the most obvious example, is a superbly wrought meditation on guilt and culpability that would’ve had Doestoevsky in fits.

As a true auteur, humour has always been Allen’s sharpest tool. He did Bergman far better in 1982’s delightful A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy than he did in either September or Interiors (1978), and sensibly delivered Hannah And Her Sisters (1986) with wistful smiles and a dollop of sentimentality, rather than the rain clouds of despond the material might have suggested in one of his more ‘Scandinavian’ moods. 1979’s Manhattan is, of course, Allen’s masterpiece and his Valentine to New York is as affectionate and wryly amusing as the city that made him deserves.

If Memories’ E.T. had professed a preference for these bitter-sweet, mid-career musings on life’s persistent questions — sex, death, religion, allergies, all the big ones — he would have been more in tune with public opinion. “When a thing is funny,” wrote George Bernard Shaw, “search it for a hidden truth.” Sound advice, which reveals that five minutes of the lobster scene from Annie Hall paints a more perceptive portrait of human relationships than an interminable two-hours of self-important, disingenuous shouty angst like Closer could ever hope to. It’s a hell of a lot funnier, too.

Clint Eastwood

Clint EastwoodName: Clinton Eastwood Jr. aka Clint Eastwood

Essential DVDs: Play Misty For Me (1971) ; High Plains Drifter (1973); The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976); Pale Rider (1985); Unforgiven (1992); The Bridges of Madison County (1995); Midnight in the Garden of Good And Evil (1997); Mystic River (2003); Million Dollar Baby (2004); Gran Torino (2008)

Oscars: Best Director, Best Picture (Unforgiven, 1993); Best Director, Best Picture (Million Dollar Baby, 2005)

In His Own Words: “I love every aspect of the creation of motion pictures and I guess I am committed to it for life.”

When Clint Eastwood decided to direct the thriller Play Misty For Me, with its cautionary view of celebrity, in 1970 he inadvertently took the first step to a kind of cinematic respectability that had thus far eluded him. He was certainly successful by then, and popular. He had been almost constantly in work since his debut on television as Rowdy Yates in Rawhide. But the spaghetti westerns he had made with Siergio Leone were yet to be subject to the critical re-appreciation led by British writer Sir Christopher Frayling and, though finally they became hits with the public, were mostly thought of as curious rip-offs of their Hollywood inspirations. Dirty Harry, who made his debut in 1971 and continued through a series of four sequels of ever deteriorating quality was considered to be essentially fascist by a number of critics, a barely disguised vigilante movie typical of the decade and virtually indistinguishable from the likes of Death Wish. Other, kinder, commentators simply regarded it as an efficient enough policier(ital) with a charismatic star grittily directed by Don Siegel.

But with Play Misty Eastwood revealed not only a facility for directing, but a (until perhaps recently) savvy taste for good material. He made four westerns, both High Plains Drifter and Pale Rider were solidly made examples of the genre from a man who thoroughly understood it, but The Outlaw Josey Wales is the most fascinating of the early ones; a daring, postmodern riff on Western mythology (filtered with anti-war sentiment in its post Civil War setting) that begins a task that his later masterpiece would complete.

Until the success of Million Dollar Baby, there was a school of thought that had wished he’d retired after making Unforgiven. Made from a brilliant screenplay by David Webb Peoples that Eastwood had cannily kept in store until he was old enough for the lead, it was a perfect grace note on which to end a career; it is after all a film about age and endings.

There have been missteps in the last few years. Space Cowboys was a woebegone attempt at dealing with the familiar theme of aging in a poorly written comedy-adventure while True Crime had a typically incendiary performance from James Woods as a newspaper editor but little else to recommend it. But there were the superior literary adaptations of The Bridges of Madison County and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil to keep us going.

Mystic River showed a return to form, it was efficiently directed, though for some it was a little too reverent for its pulpy roots and the performance he coaxed out of at least two of his leads were so honed towards Oscar glory you almost felt they were wearing their tuxes under their workshirts. The austere, multi-layered Million Dollar Baby is another masterpiece, a thematic return to the concerns of Unforgiven—age and death were again the key subjects. Made guerrilla style in little more than a month and pretty much without anyone noticing, it maintained that Eastwood’s pre-eminence as one of Hollywood’s most daring and personal filmmakers.

Sir David Lean

Sir David LeanName: David Lean

Essential DVDs: Brief Encounter (1945); Oliver Twist (1948); Great Expectations (1946); The Bridge On The River Kwai (1957); Lawrence Of Arabia (1962); Doctor Zhivago (1965)

Oscars: Best Director, Best Picture (The Bridge On The River Kwai); Best Director, Best Picture (Lawrence Of Arabia, 1963); Best Picture (Doctor Zhivago, 1966)

In His Own Words: “Actors can be a terrible bore on the set, though I enjoy having dinner with them.”

What is often forgotten amid the beautiful reaches of his vision, his rapturous storytelling and tireless quest for perfection, is what a practical soul David Lean was. He grounded himself in the industry editing such films as Michael Powell’s One Of Our Aircraft Is Missing and 49th Parallel, and when he came to direct, it was in the dusty edit suites of old Soho and not among the far-flung locations or shadowy backlots that his true alchemy was born.

Lean was a dreamer, a supreme visualist, who ripened into, arguably, the finest director this country has ever produced. His was in every sense a true romantic; he pursued women as fanatically as he pursued the light. It was a career that can be roughly divided into the two schools of design: the shimmering black and white of his early work, especially the standard-setting Dickens’ adaptations (Great Expectations is the purist’s choice when picking out his best work) and the Technicolor splendour of the glory glory years. Bridge Over The Kwai, the still astounding Lawrence Of Arabia and the voluminous romance of Doctor Zhivago, are the trio that have come to define him. Although, interestingly, he always saw the slight, tender Venice romance of Summertime, with Katharine Hepburn, as his favourite.

For it was not just the oceans of sand or lush jungles that fuelled his muse, he intricately understood the workings of a script. English playwright Robert Bolt became his resident scripter, who shuffled through the politics and range of those big, big books to find an essential filmable core. Then the actors were carried along by Lean’s maniacal control, his sheer exertion and this journey toward some kind of divine yonder where cinema could transcend (Lawrence took two years to conclude its shoot, Lean more or less dragged kicking and screaming from the set). For much of his career it did.

That he took his art, and himself, so seriously got its most damaging note when having been berated by a clutch of New York critics, led by the redoubtable Pauline Kael, for the bloated Ryan’s Daughter, he swore off moviemaking for a staggering 13 years. His return was the elegant, if muted A Passage To India. Age and a certain dulling of the passions left the film elegant but overly poised. Such intriguing possibilities as Nostromo and The Bounty were never to happen.

Yet Lean’s work remains undimmed. Spielberg, a champion of his late revival, routinely watches Lawrence to glean inspiration before starting on a film. He was an architect of scope, romanticism and grandeur, certainly, but it was the confines of the human heart that fascinated him.

The Coen Brothers

The Coen BrothersName: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

Essential DVDs: Blood Simple (1984), Miller’s Crossing (1990), Barton Fink (1991), The Hudsucker Proxy (1994), Fargo (1996), The Big Lebowski (1998), The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001), No Country for Old Men (2008)

Oscars: Best Screenplay (Fargo, 1997); Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director (No Country for Old Men, 2008)

In His Own Words: “We do pander to the audience. But the audience we think about is us.”

It was as dreamy teenagers one soporific 1960s Minnesota summer that Joel and Ethan Coen decided they should make a film. They cut lawns to afford a Super-8 camera, and then sat down to decide what to shoot. Finally, they filmed a movie playing on TV. Two brothers from small-town Minnesota playing with cameras, making a film of a film: a cute family snapshot, but also the crystallisation of what would become practically a modus operandi.

Raised far from the studio soundstages of Hollywood or New York’s artistic set, the Coens are all Minnesotan. How else to account for their peculiar, restless imagination than a childhood spent in a cultural backwater? Unschooled in filmmaking dogma, the brothers were nonetheless immersed in filmic tradition, lapping up noir whodunits, Ealing comedies and Sturges’ 40s satires as kids. Their films, which reverentially toy with these conventions, admits Ethan, are, “about other movies.” Blood Simple, their debut, betrayed a love affair with noir, a relationship taken to obsessional extremes with The Man Who Wasn’t There. Hudsucker Proxy’s feelgood Capra absurdities concealed a film about the Hollywood studio system. Barton Fink actually took place in Tinseltown, and The Ladykillers was a straight-out remake of the earlier classic.

Since their formative, for-fun Super-8 experience, the Coens have never stopped playing with cameras. All their films are comedies of a sort, usually the deliciously dark — and frequently surreal — kind. “We’re not trying to educate the masses,” they once agreed, and each film simply bulges with a sense of joy at the possibilities of life through a lens. The mercurial eye of their “self-conscious camera”, especially in earlier works, doesn’t merely observe a scene, but participates — the tracking shot along the bar in Blood Simple that hops over a laid-out drunk; the plentiful point-of-view perspective in Raising Arizona. The uninhibited camerawork and inventive editing becomes as integral to the comedy as any dialogue or sight gag.

Despite the fact Joel is credited as the director, the brothers share all duties, including editing (albeit under the alias Roderick Jaynes), producing and writing. And what writing it is, breathing life into a carnival of eclectic characters cast somewhere between the pitifully mundane and the hilariously grotesque. What stands out among their procession of hyper-real humanity is the love the brothers invest in even the most marginal character. Typically inhabited by a stock company of some of the most creative character actors around, vivid, larger-than-life cameos are another Coens’ hallmark (John Turturro’s Jesus Quintana in The Big Lebowski, John Goodman’s Big Dan Teague in Oh Brother…, Steve Buscemi’s Mink in Miller’s Crossing, et al). And filling these creations’ mouths is the arch, cartwheeling dialogue that betrays the brothers’ literary loves – pulp authors Raymond Chandler, Dashiel Hammet and Elmore Leonard among them.